Horse troughs in the Hawkesbury – The legacy of George and Annis Bills Cathy McHardy September 2014
Once a familiar site in towns and cities across NSW and Victoria, many of the concrete horse troughs provided by the estate of George and Annis Bills have disappeared from the streetscape.
I remember these concrete structures with fondness from my childhood. Travelling around NSW during school holidays with my parents I was puzzled by the stylistic similarity of the troughs and the recurring name of Bills inscribed on the pediment. Growing up in an environment where motor driven vehicles reigned supreme I was also unaware of the importance of the water troughs. My mother recounted to me the need for easily available fresh water for the health of horses and travelling stock. As I grew up I was curious to find out more about George and Annis and why they had been so generous in their benefactions.
Born in England, George ‘Joe’ Bills settled in Victoria in 1873. The Bills family were involved in the exportation of live birds then diversified their business into the manufacture of bird cages and other wire products such as mattresses firstly in Melbourne and then expanding into the Sydney market.
In 1885, Joe Bills married Annis Swann who shared his passion for animals and their protection from harm. The Bills were concerned for the plight of ill-treated work animals and supported organisations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Annis died in 1910 while on holiday in England and Joe in Melbourne in 1927. Before he died Joe ensured that his would be maintained by making provision for the establishment of a trust fund for the placement of water troughs in Australia and overseas.
“I empower my said Trustees…to construct and erect and pay for Horse-Troughs wherever they may be of opinion that such horse troughs are necessary or desirable for the relief of horses or other dumb animals either in Australasia in the British Islands or in any other part of the World.”
(Will of George Bills, 1925)
The first troughs were placed around Melbourne in 1909. Initially the troughs were individually designed but from the 1930s all were manufactured to an identical mould by Rocla Concrete Pipes Ltd, Melbourne and Junee NSW.
In the Hawkesbury area, the Bills’ horse troughs date from 1939/40. In total five were installed in the district. In early 1939 the Local Government Association of NSW contacted local councils advising them of the availability of money from the George Bills Estate for the provision of horse troughs in the district. The request was tabled and discussed at length during the meetings of Colo Shire Council, Windsor Municipal Council and Richmond Municipal Council. The troughs were to be supplied free of charge with the proviso that the foundations were to be laid by the local authorities and a connection to a reticulated water supply must be readily available at the site.
Colo Shire Council decided on the site for one trough at North Richmond and by May of that year the foundation and piping of water to the site had been completed. In April 1939 the Works Committee of Richmond Council considered that two troughs would be appropriate for the town. One was to be located at the side of the road near the Clarendon Hotel on the road between Windsor and Richmond, and the other in Lennox Street near the corner with the road to Penrith. The Clarendon Hotel was located near the site of the present hotel and was opposite one of the entrances to the RAAF Base.
In August 1939 Alderman Gillespie recommended that Windsor Council take up the offer and accordingly wrote to the trustees of the Bills’ Estate. One was to be placed at McGraths Hill and the other in Christie Street, Windsor. The representative, Mr Jack Phillips of Lakes Entrance Victoria was in America at the time and council waited until January 1940 for his reply. The Windsor and Richmond Gazette of 26 April 1940 reported that the two memorial troughs were in place and were ‘quite an ornament to the town’.
By 2013, the remaining two horse troughs in the Hawkesbury LGA situated at Agnes Banks and North Richmond were in need of repair and were removed by Hawkesbury Council. The troughs have since been refurbished and reinstated in their locations.
This research has prompted me to ask several questions. It seems that the only trough still near its original location is situated at North Richmond. What has become of the other troughs? Was the trough at Agnes Banks originally on that site or was it moved there? Alternatively Agnes Banks may have been part of Castlereagh Shire Council which amalgamated with Penrith in 1949 and is now part of Hawkesbury due to boundary changes over the years. Many local residents remember the troughs but have no knowledge of their fate.
Further information: The People & Environment Blog ‘For the relief of horses’: a gift from Annis and George Bills, 14 May 2014: http://pateblog.nma.gov.au/2014/05/14/for-the-relief-of-horses-a-gift-from-annis-and-george-bills/ retrieved 29/09/2014.
National Museum of Australia current exhibition focusing on the contribution of the horse to the history of the nation: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/spirited retrieved 29/09/2014.
George Gemmill Blog: http://billswatertroughs.wordpress.com/ retrieved 29/09/2014.
The Windsor and Richmond Gazette retrieved 5/08/2014 17 March 1939, p 1. 28 April 1939, p 1. 19 May 1939, p 7. 18 August 1939, p 9. 15 September 1939, p 7. 12 January 1940, p 1. 19 April 1940, p 7. 26 April 1940, p 5.
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